Twenty-one years ago today, on December 9, 1992, the Marlins lost their first team president, when Carl Barger collapsed and passed away during the 1992 MLB Winter Meetings in Louisville, Kentucky. The cause was a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was 62 years old.
Barger's Time With Marlins and Impact
Barger was officially hired on July 8, 1991 as the Marlins first team president while he was still serving as President of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He would resign from the Pirates shortly afterward due to criticism that holding both positions was a conflict of interests. This criticism was present even though the Marlins hadn't reached the point of business that involved work that would have conflicted with the Pirates or vice versa. Barger would go on to spend about a year and a half as the Marlin's first president, until his unexpected death. In his time as president, Barger made a major impact in moving the expansion franchise forward toward its on-the-field start and eventual first World Series championship.
During his time, Barger oversaw through successful transactions such as drafting the future "Mr. Marlin", Jeff Conine during the 1992 Expansion Draft, which occurred two days before Barger's death. Also in that draft, the Marlins selected a previous quality MLB reliever named Chris Carpenter, who the Marlins were later able to trade for two minor league pitchers - one of which was a converted infielder that turned out to be Robb Nen. That same draft also included a potential Hall of Fame closer in Trevor Hoffman, who was later used in a trade for All Star, Gary Sheffield. Earlier in the year, future World Series hero, Gold Glove and All Star shortstop Edgar Renteria was signed as an amateur free agent. Additionally, during the 1992 June Amateur Draft, Barger saw through with the drafting of future All Star and Gold Glove catcher, Charles Johnson. Finally, the day before Barger's death, he and his staff signed free agent RHP Charlie Hough and 3B Dave Magadan.
While Barger's completed work prior to his death was impressive and significant, his work also led to posthumous success as well. Barger's work leading to and during his time at the 1992 Winter meetings also led to the Marlins signing free agent, former All Star and Gold Glove catcher, Benito Santiago a week after Barger's death. However, some larger impacts were still to come. Barger was the person who introduced the Marlins executive team and ownership to then-Pirates manager, Jim Leyland - a relationship that paid huge dividends a few years later when the Marlins hired Leyland to lead their 1997 team. Barger also led to Marlins connections with former Pirates farm products, Moises Alou and John Cangelosi, needless to say, key additions and parts of their 1997 team.
Honors For Barger's Memory
As a result of Barger's work, the Marlins franchise has taken steps over the years to honor his memory. The most noted of these was the retirement of the uniform number 5 as the only number to be retired in Marlins history, other than Jackie Robinson's number 42. The selection of the number 5 was directly due to the Marlins inaugural regular-season game taking place on April 5, 1993 and also due to Carl Barger's favorite player being the legendary Joe DiMaggio. While the number was later un-retired, it was only for a special case scenario.
Other honors to Barger's memory include naming designated practice areas and fields next to Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, as the Carl F. Barger Baseball Complex; and also, earlier this year, the Marlins unveiled a plaque in honor of Carl Barger at Marlins Park. During the plaque unveiling, current Marlins President, David Samson, commented, "Carl Barger played an integral role in developing this franchise during its infancy, and setting it on a course to a World Series Championship in just five years... Marlins Park would not be complete without a tribute to Carl and all that he did for the Marlins."
Even though Barger's time with the Marlins was cut short, he was able to have an impact that can never be forgotten. Many of the memories and legacies that Marlins fans enjoy to this day are the result of Barger's work. Hopefully Marlins fans everywhere can give a moment of honor in memory of Carl Barger, twenty-one years after his unexpected death.